BAMAKO, (Reuters) – Mutineering soldiers attacked Mali’s presidential palace overnight yesterday as a protest over the government’s handling of a nomad-led rebellion in the north turned into an all-out coup.
Heavy weapons and tracer fire rang out around the palace in the capital Bamako and the mutineers, who complain they lack arms and resources to face a separatist insurgency in the Sahara, forced the state broadcaster off the air.
“We now know it is a coup d’etat that they are attempting,” a defence ministry official said, asking not to be named.
The official said President Amadou Toumani Toure, who has long said he will relinquish power after elections scheduled next month, was in a secure location but gave no more details.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called in a statement for calm and for grievances to be settled democratically.
Programmes on state television were interrupted after the mutinous soldiers blocked access routes to it. It was not clear to what extent they were in control of the building when it came back on air late on Wednesday.
“In a moment, there will be a statement by the military,” read a brief message, displayed against a backdrop of traditional Malian music and dance.
Anger has grown in the army at the handling of a Tuareg-led rebellion that has killed dozens, forced some 200,000 civilians to flee their homes and exposed Bamako’s lack of control over the northern half of a country twice the size of France.
In a sign of spreading support for the mutiny, two military sources in the northern town of Gao confirmed the arrests of several senior officers in the town, a regional operations centre.
Soldiers have for weeks appealed to the government for better weapons to fight the rebels, who are bolstered by fighters who had fought in Libya’s civil war last year. But many mutineers said they now wanted to oust Toure himself.